Camp Wellstone

The rabid partisans of the Republican far right truly loathed Senator Paul Wellstone, the spirited and popular Minnesota progressive who died in a plane crash last year. In a testament to their partisan loathing, Minnesota right wingers have put out an ugly post-mortem bumper sticker that angrily says of Wellstone: "He's dead, get over it."

But Paul -- or at least his spirit -- just won't die. Indeed, Paul and his wife Sheila, who also died in the crash, are now the rallying point of an important and exciting organizing effort to carry their spirit and policies into a longterm campaign to build a progressive future for our country. It's called Wellstone Action, and it literally is taking action to bring power back to America's grassroots.

Among modern political figures, Wellstone was unique, for instead of throwing all of his campaign funds at pollsters, consultants, and TV ads, he put a big percentage into grassroots organizing. He and his staffers ran a series of weekend politial bootcamps called "Camp Wellstone," where they trained thousands of volunteers, campaign managers, and future candidates. By strengthening the civic skills of on-the-ground people, Paul strengthened his own populist base, enhanced democracy, and extended the framework for an on-going progressive movement.

Now, the good people who worked with Paul and Sheila are continuing this democracy-building effort by taking the Camp Wellstone concept national. Wellstone Action is holding nine or so intensive training camps this year in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, with about 20 Camp Wellstones planned cross-country next year.

If they build it, people will come, for folks are thirsting for community and a politics that matters, and this is one political effort that genuinely puts people first. As the Wellstones preached tirelessly, democracy is not something to be awaited... it is something to be achieved.

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